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Cover Story: Super Slugger Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper leading the Nationals to victory!

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With one crack of the bat in the sixth inning during the Washington Nationals, better known as the Nats, Opening Day on Monday, April 3, the high expectations for Bryce Harper’s 2017 season bolted into action. Harper’s towering homer scored the first run of the season for the Nats which led the team to bounce back and win its opening game to beat the Miami Marlins 4-2.

 

Harper’s home run put him in the record books as the first player in major league history since 1920 to register five home runs, yes five, on Opening Day before he turned 25 years old. Since going pro in 2012, he hit two home runs in 2013 against the Marlins. He also hit Opening Day home runs in 2015 and 2016. And now with the new season in 2017, Harper is the first player in the Nats franchise history to accomplish this feat. He wears uniform number 34 (3 plus 4), a tribute to his hero —  the late and great New York Yankee Mickey Mantle, who wore #7.

 

This is terrific news for the legions of fans and followers of this very talented right fielder who is coming off a disappointing season in 2016 when he hit just a .243 batting average with 24 home runs and 86 RBI. Quite a head turner from the career-high totals the year before in 2015 with 42 home runs, 99 RBI and a batting average of .330.

 

For the seasoned or casual baseball afficionado, Harper’s comeback perhaps puts to bed the talk and rumors of a suspected injury. It can signal the return of a great player as he enters his sixth season with the Nats.

 

Billowing in the background is the fact that Harper is eligible for free agency at the end of the 2018 season. It can’t be avoided to take notice that at that time Harper can be awarded one of the largest Major League Baseball (MLB) contracts in its history. Giancarlo Stanton, right fielder with the Miami Marlins, is the current record holder at $325 million. He inked a 13-year contract extension in 2014. Alex Rodriguez holds the second largest contract of $275 million in 2008, which he signed with the New York Yankees.

 

Where the contract situation goes in the future is all speculation for right now, but one thing for sure, life is good for Bryce Harper. During the off-season in December 2016, he married his longtime girlfriend and high school sweetheart Kayla Varner at the majestic white San Diego California Temple. He speaks openly about his Mormon faith and is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

 

Harper’s had exposure on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2009 and was featured in ESPN’s The Magazine 2015 Body Issue, showing a bit of his 6’ 3” perfect form.

 

Harper believes in hard work and playing the game with all he’s got. He credits his father, Ron, an ironworker in Las Vegas, for instilling a strong work ethic. It’s something his older brother, Bryan Harper, has emulated as well. He is also in the Washington Nationals organization as a pitcher for the Class-AAA Syracuse Chiefs. The brothers are best friends and speak to each other by phone on a regular basis. Their mother Sheri and sister Brittany Harper-Peterson are their biggest fans.

 

Bryce Harper’s hard work and passion for baseball has resulted in numerous awards during his short six full years in MLB. Since he was acquired by the Nats in the MLB 2010 draft and began his career in 2012, it’s been nothing but success for Harper. Accolades have followed him with each season, except for the disappointing year in 2016.

 

Harper has taken the National League by storm. He was named National League Rookie of the Year in 2012. He was recognized as MVP in 2015 and ESPN MLB Person of the Year. In that same towering career year, Harper received the Silver Slugger Award, which is awarded annually to the best offensive player at each position in both the National League and the American League, as determined by the coaches and managers of MLB.

He is a four-time MLB National League All-Star. It’s been known that his enthusiasm for being awarded the privilege, he relishes every moment and doesn’t leave the dugout until the final out and the game is in the books.

 

In 2015 with his career and season high of a .330 batting average, Harper received the Hank Aaron Award. It is given annually to the best overall offensive MLB performer in both leagues. The award was introduced in 1999 to mark the 25th anniversary of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record. Aaron, along with a panel of other Hall of Famers, determine the winners along with a fan vote. Harper proved to be at the top of his game.

 

Where and how did Bryce Aron Max Harper’s baseball career begin and catapult him to fame?

 

Harper appeared to have all the skills as a young boy. He outpaced all the others at baseball camp. By the time he was playing stellar baseball for the Wildcats at Las Vegas High School (LVHS), he was regarded as a consummate competitor. That’s what teachers and coaches were saying about him and his accomplishments. He was on the June 8, 2009 Sports Illustrated cover when he was just 16 years old. The cover story, written by Tom Verducci, features the headline “Baseball’s Chosen One — Bryce Harper is the most exciting prodigy since LeBron”. 

 

His stats were mind-boggling. Harper hit .625 with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs in 115 at-bats for the Wildcats that season. He hit 22 doubles, nine triples and stole 36 bases. He only struck out five times.

 

High schools in Las Vegas have produced some heavy-hitting baseball alumni — including Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux of Valley High School and infielder Kris Bryant of the 2016 World Series Champions Chicago Cubs from Bonanza High School. Bryant and Harper briefly played together when they were both on the Southern Nevada Bulldogs. Harper was 13 years old and Bryant was 14.

 

And that was just the beginning. He dedicated his life to pursuing his dream. He left LVHS after his sophomore year and earned his General Educational Diploma (GED). He then enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada to move up his eligibility for the Major League Baseball draft to 2010. At the time, the decision was regarded as an unprecedented and somewhat controversial move.

 

His short successful college career brought him to the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) World Series. His brother Bryan, who had been his teammate at LVHS, was one of the Southern Nevada Coyote’s starting pitchers and Bryce was the catcher; a one-two battery punch.

 

Harper’s life then turned another corner. The Nats had a less than stellar year in 2009 with a 59-103 season. This afforded them the first overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft — Bryce Harper. While he previously played as a catcher, he was drafted as an outfielder.

 

His minor league career teams included the Scottsdale (AZ) Scorpions, Harrisburg (PA) Senators and the Hagerstown (MD) Suns. While with the Scottsdale Scorpions, they team won the 2010 Arizona Fall League Championship. In 2011, he was selected to represent the United States in the 2011 All-Star Future Games during the 2011 All Star Game weekend at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona.

 

His anticipated jump into the big leagues in 2012 was an immediate success and Harper’s career path has been a skyrocketing phenomenon. On all counts, it’s only the beginning for this young and gifted major leaguer.

 

Will this season be his best? With Bryce Harper’s powerful swing, Nats fans are hoping this is the year when their team with the prized outfielder will outshine every team in the league to bring home the World Series Championship to D.C.

 

Q & A with Bryce Harper

What is your favorite discovery from living in D.C?

It’s not the traffic, that’s for sure. There are many things that I love about this town. The one thing that comes to mind is it’s so monumental. The history is just amazing.

 

Do you have a favorite neighborhood?

Shaw is probably my favorite with the shops, eating, and art. It’s a great area for everybody.

 

Where is your favorite place to eat in D.C?

My favorite spot is Filomena because they treat me like family every time I go into the restaurant.

 

Where are your bucket list domestic and international destinations?

Northern lights, Machu Picchu, Patagonia, Antarctica, Kyoto, Jerusalem, Silk Road, South Island, and probably the Lost City.

 

Do you have a standard pre-game ritual?

I listen to the speech from Lone Survivor every time I get ready to play! “FROGMEN BALLAD”